The Central Arkansas Library System is increasing the number of telescopes available for library-goers to borrow.
CALS used funds from an Arkansas Space Consortium grant as well as assistance from the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society to secure the new telescopes.
The library system has partnered with the astronomical society since the telescope program’s launch in 2016. Originally, the system had a collection of 16 telescopes. Now, there are 30 telescopes for the public to use.
Darrell Heath, the outreach coordinator for the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, says the concept of loner telescopes has been around for about a decade, with New Hampshire launching the first program.
“They put in I think one telescope just as a trial to see how it would go, and it was a huge success,” Heath said. “Patrons wanted more so they started getting more and more of these scopes and other libraries and astronomy clubs picked up on this around the country and started partnering with each other.”
The program is popular in Arkansas too. The original total of 16 telescopes meant each branch of the library system had access to one telescope. Nathan James, the deputy executive director of technology and collection innovation for the library system, says the demand far outweighed the supply.
“Within about a year, they had been checked out about 299 times. We had at some times over 100 people waiting in line for them. It was way more popular than we ever anticipated and people really enjoyed those telescopes,” James said.
With now 30 telescopes at their disposal, each branch will now have two telescopes so there will now be shorter wait times to access them.
According to a news release by the library system, the new telescopes are Orion StarBlast telescopes that can magnify up to 56 times. CALS says these telescopes are useful for observing brighter planets like Saturn and Jupiter as well as the moon.
Library members can check out telescopes for up to two weeks at a time. Heath encourages those who check out the telescopes to not just view the sky from their own backyard.
“Once you have these scopes you can take it in the countryside, when you want to go camping or want to visit grandpa for a holiday, take it with you. You’re not restricted to keeping it in the city. Take it out with you and go use it,” Heath said.
James believes this program is another way the library can offer a learning experience that is different than reading a book.
“This is really an experiential activity that you get to get out there and really look at the world around you with a whole new set of eyes if you will. And the telescope gives you that set of eyes,” James said.
In addition to the new telescopes, the library system and the astronomical society are offering a series of programs this month centered around astronomy.
The events will take place Thursday evenings at the Main Library. Some of the topics will be on learning the constellations, combating light pollution and how to use the new telescopes. If the skies allow it, moon viewing sessions will follow each program.
Heath believes a knowledge of astronomy can help broaden a patron’s perspective on their place in the world.
“You begin to see yourself as part of something much much bigger than just yourself. You have a sense of community even,” Heath said. “I mean, you feel like everything, everyone around you is a bit precious when you consider how alone we are in the universe.”